By Ken Stern 

Love is more than just a kissing fancy

Play review


February 22, 2023

UPDATE: The show will go on. Get tickets and go see "Prelude" this last week of its run, March 3-5.

That old story line: "Boy meets girl." Then: Girl falls for boy. Boy falls for girl. They marry. Boy loses girl. When the story turns in a strange fantastical way you have an original plot and the play "Prelude to a Kiss." It opened before an enthusiastic and friendly audience Feb. 17 at the Lincoln Theatre.

Peter (Matthew Twining, in a strong performance) is the slightly disheveled, somewhat uncertain narrator, breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience from his first line. There is a waking dream quality of uncertainty to his telling.

In his mannerisms and dress – a long scarf carelessly draped over his shoulders; his untucked shirt and unmade tuxedo tie on his wedding day, Twining, probably under Angela Marinella's direction, conveys a slightly disheveled, somewhat uncertain stability.

Rita (Emelia Bateman, energetic and bright) is all in on Peter once his friend Tyler (Matthew Bianconi) introduces them. She is a live-in-the-present bartender, aware and reflective enough to be a socialist and not want to bring children into this troubled world, uncertain in her own way.

There is an attraction that pushes them past awkward moments. Pretty soon they have kissed – and more – and Peter moves in. They both joke their way through a marriage proposal they realize they mean.

And, as lovers do they share intimacies of biography and life journeys, markers of their unique selves. There are introductions to Rita's parents, Mrs. (Lisa Notter) and Dr. (Scott Andrews) Boyle. There is an outdoor wedding, with aunts (Diane Longmire, Anneliese Vance-Sherman) and the ensemble cast taking selfies and filling the rows of chairs.

Then, the play turns as an Old Man (Kevin Cobley) shuffles haltingly, confusedly into the scene. His unexpected kiss of the bride changes everything. He causes a scene. Lights flash. The Old Man runs off, more energetically. What has happened?

"Any new reality is scary," one of them says. And the honeymoon in Jamaica is odd, off-center for Peter. Rita has changed in obvious ways. The secrets and special experiences and interests they revealed to each other? All of a sudden they are all clunkers. And Rita's interests have changed. This is not the honeymoon of either's dreams.

Peter is confused. He wanders back to the bar where Rita used to work. The Old Man is there. Peter interrogates him. Could it be? Spoiler alert, in code: Turns out a kiss is not just a kiss.

Cobley becomes the surprising center of the play. He transforms before our eyes. This slightly rotund Santa Claus has a crush on Peter. And he is slightly feminine, his voice and gestures are all 20 something Rita. He flutters his fingers and lays his head on Peters shoulder. He radiates a youthful energy.

Peter and this new Rita explore hope, acceptance, resignation, understanding. There are possibilities. It being theatre, resolution beckons. Will it be that Peter can embrace the new Rita?

Playwright Craig Lucas combined romance, humor and pathos. Alas, he rushes to judgment to reach the climax. That is a limitation of the script, not the actors or the production.

The ending here? Sealed with a kiss.

There is music before and through the show. The Joan Penny Jazz Trio accents and provide mood as well as bridges scenes during set changes. Hans Brehmer, keyboards, and Drew Baddeley, upright bass, support Penny's vocals.

Lucas' play premiered on Broadway in 1990.

Performances are weekends through March 5. Tickets and times:; 360-336-8955.


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